Raise your hand if you’re feeling uneasy RN! 🙋🏻♀️🙋🏼♀️🙋🏽♀️🙋🏾♀️🙋🏿♀️
Yep, that’s what I thought. Whether you deal with anxiety or depression on a daily basis or are experiencing these feelings for the first time, we’re all navigating a situation that no one has ever had to deal with before. Hats off to everyone who is going through it right now—we’re all in this together! Negative emotions range from anxiety and worry to depression. If you’re dealing with any of this right now, you don’t have to go through this alone. Many therapists are offering Zoom or Skype sessions right now with no added fees. Or if you would like to try tele-therapy, we recommend BetterHelp and Talkspace.
After half a decade of in-person therapy under my belt, I’ve learned a lot about coping with negative emotions and training my brain to go against what it naturally likes to do (i.e. catastrophize and freak out). I’m currently employing those techniques and coping mechanisms to my day-to-day life while staying home and protecting myself and others. Here is everything I’ve learned from my therapists over the years that might help you get through the negativity and stress many of us are dealing with right now.
1. Redefining productivity
When I’ve been in a depressive episode, I have a tendency to get caught up in all-or-nothing thinking, which convinces me that if I didn’t start my day with an hour workout, a healthy breakfast, and knocking three things off my to-do list, the day is wasted. And especially with staying at home, my morning routine is more important than ever. It’s easy to spend all day watching TV and feeling like absolute garbage, but sometimes it’s exactly what we need. When I get like this, my therapist has explained that I should redefine what it means to productive for myself. Productivity doesn’t have to be as concrete or linear as we make it out to be, and she said that if I transfer my focus to the things I did accomplish, that’s productive in itself.
Cooking dinner for myself instead of eating a roll of crackers from the back of the cabinet? Productive. Moving from my bed to the couch to watch TV? Productive. Brushing my teeth and re-doing my messy bun? Productive. If you’re in a place where you can do more, go ahead, but I’ll be the first to admit that this time has been extremely tough for me (just as it has for many, many others), and just doing the bare minimum can make me feel like I’m beginning to come out of it.
2. Connecting with others
I’m a horrible texter (and not in a cute, “I’m just so busy!” way), and I tend to push people away when I get sad (hello, yes, being my friend is a freaking blast!!). When I am physically alone for long periods of time, I convince myself I’m alone in general, and once loneliness sets in, it’s hard to come out of. Through therapy, I’ve done a lot of work on training my brain to stop thinking in ultimatums and outcomes that are entirely based on emotion rather than fact. I am physically alone, but in no way does that mean I am mentally alone. Taking just a small bit of my day to force myself to talk to a friend (likely about something totally random) has made those feelings of loneliness when in isolation subside much quicker.
3. Stop glamorizing isolation
I’m always one for cute pajamas, sheet masks, and quirky blue light glasses. Sometimes, all you need is the little things. But seeing people isolating with giant pools in their backyards and a new tie-dye sweatsuit every day and workout equipment abound makes me feel jealous and like I’m not doing enough. When I came to stay with family instead of in my city apartment, I had a whole mental breakdown because my family home doesn’t have all of my clothes or products; I can’t put up this facade that I’m fine on Instagram without material possessions. Until I got on a call with my therapist (highly suggest during this time) and realized I’m looking at this time all wrong. It’s not a vacation or “time off.” This isn’t “spring break.” Everyone is just trying to survive right now. I have to be respectful that some people might be coping with their feelings in an entirely different way than me, and that doesn’t make them irresponsible. Through therapy, I started understanding that I need to focus on what heals and fuels me during this time and to stop comparing or glamorizing the ways other people are getting through it.
4. Fighting with friends and family is OK
This is the first time any of us are dealing with something like this, and that includes your loved ones. I’ve never spent this much time surrounded by family in my life—not even vacations, and we all know what happens on family vacation. It’s incredibly normal to have arguments and disagreements with your family or friends during this time, and that’s OK. Everyone deals with a crisis differently, and it’s unrealistic to assume we’ll get through it without a few bumps in the road.
I’m very close with my little brother who is currently trying to navigate homeschooling. And I’ve been a bit controlling about making sure he’s getting everything done and things are going smoothly … which he hasn’t exactly enjoyed. My therapist explained that I need to understand that even family won’t deal with a crisis the same way as I will, and I have to understand that everyone will experience those associated feelings differently.
5. Focus on the facts
Catastrophizing is a common emotion anxiety-sufferers experience. It’s basically when we experience an emotion and immediately think to the worst-case scenario; you make a catastrophe out of a current situation without any actual fact that it’s going there. Catastrophizing is quite easy to do when our world seems to be saturated with bad news right now. It’s the idea that if you do poorly on a test, you’ll never become a doctor; if your partner doesn’t text back in an hour, they’ll break up with you and you’ll be alone forever; if you can’t go back to work in the next month, you’ll lose your job and your income and your home.
But it’s detrimental to our mental health to constantly be worrying about worst-case scenarios we have no fact to even back up. You’re making a situation seem much worse than it actually is based on little-to-no facts. I’m a little more than known to do this, and through many therapists I’ve learned the importance of focusing on the facts in front of you instead of emotions. In Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), there’s the concept of “wise mind,” in which you combine your overly-logical mind (thinking in the black and white) and your overly-emotional mind (catastrophizing) to establish a medium point of thinking. To do this, I write down the emotions I’m feeling: anger, anxiousness, and fear. And then I follow the facts. I am feeling scared because I don’t know what’s going to happen next month, but the fact is that no one knows and we have to follow the guidelines set before us for the time being. I am feeling angry because I don’t have control over what’s going on around me, but I can control how I react. I stop myself from thinking ahead and immediately feel relieved.